CCCC 2001 in Review: H.14 Theoretical Foundations of the Discourses of Writing Assessment, chaired by Annette Harris Powell

Michael Williamson presented "Theoretical Foundations of the Discourses of Writing Assessment."

Williamson defined psychometrics as the science of studying the human mind and discussed the ways that psychometrics has provided the theoretical grounding for writing assessment. Williamson was easy to like because his research was thorough and his field knowledge was strong. "Coming to the 4Cs and whining about assessment isn't going to get anyone anywhere," he said. Williamson's historical context gave the whole session important grounding.

Peggy O'Neil presented "Conflicts and Contradictions in the Discourse of Writing Assessment: Consensus, Consistency and Community."

O'Neil focused on how we use the language of assessment by analyzing Writing Assessment: A Position Statement, published in a l995 CCC and on the Web at www.ncte.org. O'Neil considered the following literacy assumptions: language is learned when it accomplishes something, language by definition is social, reading is as socially constructed as all other forms of language use, and anyone's writing ability fluctuates with skills. The presenter noted that assessment tends to drive pedagogy and that what is easiest to measure may be writing that is not interesting or good. O'Neil questioned how assessment informs achievement and stressed that improvement of teaching and learning should be the primary concern of assessment. The presentation was lively because O'Neil made us see how the language of assessment is comprised of words and phrases that are saturated with assumptions and implications.

Ellen Schendel presented "Toward a Discourse of Assessment: and Consensus, Consistency and Community."

Reliability and efficiency have their place. However, Schendel claimed that too often in composition this means over dependence on multiple choice testing. The point of this presentation was to bring ethics to a forefront of our discussion about assessment.

Schendel noted that validity is useful because it's not a static set of rules but a call for discovering the ethics of assessment in composition studies. Ethics was used here as a defined process of inquiry. Schendel called on the field to develop an ethical assessment code for researchers that focuses on the need to discuss and acknowledge power relations. To talk to administrators, she said, "we need to speak their language in order to change what they mean by it." [WH]

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